CEAS Public Announcement - Comparative analysis of different draft versions of the strategic documents

In its newly published report, „What a Difference a Year Makes“, the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade (CEAS) presents a comparative analysis of the draft versions of the new National Security Strategy (NSS) and National Defense Strategy (NDS), which the government of the Republic of Serbia adopted on 8th August 2019 and passed on to the National Assembly for consideration, in versions that underwent public discussion back in the spring of 2018.

CEAS is glad that these draft versions of strategic documents have finally entered the parliamentary verification procedure, which was one of the key recommendations in the recently published CEAS report titled “Rashomon”, regarding Serbian-Chinese relations. Namely, due to current dynamics of the global, regional and domestic developments, the strategies of national security and defense are evidently outdated. Also, the partners of the Republic of Serbia (RS), both governments and international organizations need updated relevant strategic documents on the basis of which it will be possible to make forecasts regarding future cooperation and assess the level and quality of partnership with the Republic of Serbia, which has significantly improved its international position thanks to the manner and the volume of participation in multinational operations.

CEAS assumes that final adoption of these strategies shall accelerate opening of Chapter 31 in the negotiations with the EU - Foreign, security and defense policy.

CEAS hopes that all parties shall responsibly participate in the process of consideration, making necessary amendments and adopting these important documents, as well as other legislative and normative documents that should originate from them, either by the current or the next National Assembly of RS. Boycott of the coming elections would constitute and avoidance of these very important civil and governmental duties.

This is especially important if we bear in mind new geopolitical and regional circumstances and the fact that the documents are being adopted in an extremely difficult period of ongoing negotiations on new relations between Belgrade and Prishtina. The coming assembly session and discussion of the documents will provide an opportunity for confirmation of the intention to improve the general atmosphere and functioning of the assembly, and give a chance to opposition leaders and other parties to present their views on the drafts and possible amendments. This is an exceptional opportunity for their policies and plans to be heard, apart from those pertaining to the election procedures. For every country it is very important to reach a general consensus regarding foreign policy, security and defense policies, in line with a realistic assessment of the strategic environment and common national interests that are within the realm of the possible.           

CEAS is glad that new draft versions of NSS and NDS, among other things, include the following:

protection of environment and resources of the Republic of Serbia is recognized as a national interest (NSS new version); one of the announced elements of the national security policy is a significant increase of the number of citizens trained for defense of the country (NSS new version); professional approach, control and supervision are included among the key principles of functioning of the national security and defense systems (NSS, NDS new versions); the sentence reading: “Russian Federation shall continue to strengthen its political influence and advance its capacities and its position in certain regions and globally” has been omitted (new version of NDS does not contain this sentence); it is recognized that spreading of fake news and disinformation within the concept of hybrid and information warfare may adversely affect functioning of the elements of defense system (NDS new version); KFOR is explicitly named as the guarantor of the Brussels agreement (NDS new version); it is explicitly stated that the system of defense shall e under democratic and civilian control (NDS new version); Serbian Army is named explicitly as the subject of implementation of the defense strategy.  

CEAS has suggested that the new strategies should harmonize the phrases that pertain to the level of cooperation of the Republic of Serbia with CSTO, because the new version of NSS mentions the observer status of RS, which is not mentioned in the new draft of NDS. Also, NSS speaks of expansion and deepening of cooperation, whereas the NDS mentions expansion and deepening of cooperation with CSTO, but there is no mention of the observer status.

As was the case with the detailed normative and contextual analysis of the draft versions of strategic documents from 2018, “Kosovo First”, CEAS is aware of and wishes to emphasize the very peculiar circumstances under which these documents are being discussed and adopted, namely, the elements, dynamics and possibility for adoption of a multidimensional compromise agreement for formalization of the relations between Belgrade and Prishtina. Nevertheless, CEAS is worried that some of the new elements in these drafts can be interpreted too arbitrarily, leading to misunderstandings and problems at the local, global and primarily regional level. This is the case with the sections on protection and preservation of the Serbian people wherever they may live, as a newly introduced national interest, and development of special relations Republika Srpska.

The NSS now contains the following sentence: „Any threat to the national interests shall be regarded as a threat to security of the Republic of Serbia and Serbian people, wherever they may live, as well as to Serbian religious, cultural and historical heritage.”

CEAS believes that potential problems that might hinder communication and strengthening of regional cooperation, as well as European integration that rightfully has been included among the national interests, might be caused by provisions of the NDS contained in the section Defense Policy which explicitly state that the goals of protection of peace and security in the region and the world, as one of the defense interests of the RS, shall also be realized through “Preservation of Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina in accordance with the Dayton Agreement and improvement of position of Serbs in the world and in the region.”

CEAS truly hopes that by-laws and other documents shall reduce the possibility of arbitrary interpretation or define in more detail the procedures for assessment of threats to stated interests, in order to preserve domestic and regional security.

In other elements that have not been modified, CEAS fully stands behind the assessments and recommendations issued in the report “Kosovo First” from 2018, which analyzed the overall context of the procedure for adoption and offered a methodological and value-based examination of the content of the new draft of the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia and its harmonization with the existing legislative framework. 

These conclusions and recommendations include the following: 

“The fact that European integration of the Republic of Serbia is explicitly stated as a national value in the draft of the new National Security Strategy, and that the President of Serbia linked the optimal outcome of Kosovo negotiations with Serbia’s membership in the EU are a good development. Nevertheless, the main political characteristic of the period in which the draft of the National Security Strategy is analyzed is the intensified internal dialogue on Kosovo, as well as the very process of negotiations with official Prishtina under the auspices of the EU. CEAS believes that the very process of developing new strategic documents, as well as their content, is largely conditioned by the acceleration of the process of negotiations with Prishtina, which is an additional objectively aggravating factor.

The assessment that the draft of the new National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia is dominantly conditioned by the negotiations on Kosovo is grounded in the fact that parts of the draft National Security Strategy that relate to the competence of the President of the Republic of Serbia, who is also the main negotiator for Kosovo. CEAS notes that several parts of the draft hint at strengthening of the position of the President of the Republic in the future legal framework.

CEAS understands this trend to some extent, although it is questionable from the perspective of the separation of powers and the democratic control of the security system and therefore represents a double-edged sword, bearing in mind the stated political considerations and challenges that the state leadership faces in the effort to find a peaceful and sustainable solution for Kosovo, in the hope that it will keep Serbia on track of European integration.

For these reasons, CEAS considers it very likely that the new strategic documents, even if adopted with significant changes – which is unlikely – will not have a long life span.

CEAS believes that first of all it is necessary to formalize the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which remains the last major unresolved factor from the legacy of Milosevic’s regime and the wars of the nineties. In line with the new comprehensive solution, it is necessary to initiate the process of amending the existing Constitution or adopting a new one. In these changes it is necessary to better standardize the basic postulates of the security and defense system. In line with the new circumstances, with continuing or abandoning the EU integration process, first of all it is necessary to adopt a sincere and comprehensive foreign policy strategy that should no longer be reduced to the eventual continuation of EU integration, as it is now, and only then adopt the new security and defense framework documents. These documents need to be substantially and normatively coordinated with the chosen foreign policy orientation of Serbia on one hand, and with the geopolitical and geostrategic environment on the other, and contain clear provisions on the separation of power, rule of law, human rights and the democratic control over the security system.

In short, FIRST it is necessary to resolve the issues related to KOSOVO in order for Serbia to escape the current situation in which the issue of Kosovo is overshadowing all others, hence, KOSOVO FIRST, and enter a new one in which DEMOCRATIC SERBIA FIRST would be a viable option.

In the report “Roshomon”, published in August 2019, CEAS concluded the following:  

„Formalization of relations between Belgrade and Prishtina in a foreseeable future would open up the RS’s currently limited potential to pass new strategic documents in the midst of the very complicated negotiations with Prishtina.

After formalization and institutional adoption through constitutional amendments, Serbia would need to embark on developing its foreign policy strategy, as soon as possible, and adopt new defense and security strategies. Once the issue of Kosovo is resolved, these documents would need to consider the geopolitical circumstances in a more realistic manner than is the case with, for example, the draft versions of new defense and security strategy published in the spring. 

CEAS recommends that, should an assessment be made that this formalization shall not take place any time soon, the RS government bodies in charge should expedite adoption of the amendments and improvements to the said drafts or come up with new proposals for the relevant strategies. This is indispensable, so that Western partners also might officially assess predictability and reliability of Serbia in coping with the common challenges and threats. Bering in mind unusually complex and volatile geopolitical situation, this is a must, though it may not be easy for the RS. 

Should Belgrade succeed in formalizing relations with Prishtina in a manner that would keep it on its EU integration track and facilitate strengthening of relations with NATO and the Member States individually, first of all with the USA, which CEAS considers as the most favorable outcome, the above mentioned new strategies would have to project the future relations with China in a manner that will not interfere with these primary interests.” 

Belgrade, 5 September 2019